MACHU PICCHU, Peru — Turning the corner and seeing the stunning Machu Picchu ruins, perched on top of the plunging mountains and dusted with clouds, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments.
The beauty, presence and magic of the place surpass most people’s expectations, leaving them floored and unable to believe their eyes.
Contiki takes groups of 18-35 years-olds, often inexperienced travellers, and gives them memorable experiences in destinations around the world, often sparking a lifelong love of travel. In this case, Contiki took a dozen travel agents on a FAM through Peru, hosted by Brad Ford, president of Contiki Canada, and Sheralyn Berry, director of sales.
“Peru and Machu Picchu are on everyone’s bucket list, but you don’t realize how amazingly special this place is until you experience it for yourself,” says Whitney Davis, travel consultant, Marlin Travel. “Machu Picchu is totally awe-inspiring and you can be sure your clients will come back happy and extremely satisfied.”
The weeklong FAM started in Lima which is a great place to get acclimatized to South America, full of great bars and restaurants, and the centre of the flourishing Peruvian culinary scene. The Milaflores district, where most travellers choose to stay, is set just next to the Pacific Ocean with a very distinct ‘beachy’ vibe offering beautiful views, great seafood and surfing.
A quick internal flight gets you to Cusco, the centre of the Incan universe and where the real Peruvian adventure begins. Cusco sits at an elevation of 3,400 metres, way up in the beautiful Andes. It is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its well preserved colonial architecture, and the city is surrounded by ancient Incan ruins.
Heading down into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Contiki ensures that travellers get a taste of everything this beautiful place has to offer: visit to the llama farm; hike the ancient ruins in Pisac and Ollantaytambo; whitewater rafting the Urubamba river; backyard BBQ with a Peruvian family; drinking chicha at the local bar; biking down the Andes mountains and much more.
“The Sacred Valley is gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. It activates a sense that there is something more to the everyday,” says Ford. “You have people that are very connected to their families and the community, and there is just something super positive and electric about the entire valley.”
And just when you thought you’d found heaven on earth, it’s time to head to Machu Picchu. Our Contiki FAM group took the train to the small town at the base of the mountain, then the bus up to the ruins and arrived relaxed and rested first thing in the morning. You know it’s going to be wonderful, but Machu Picchu blew everyone’s expectations out of the water. The place is emotional, surreal and magical.
Contiki currently offers travellers the option of a one-day hike up to Machu Picchu, but will be offering the four-day hike option, the Ultimate Inca, starting in 2015 (on sale now). It will be grueling and limit-testing hike, but it is the quintessential Peruvian experience that many clients are demanding.
There are several things to keep in mind about the four-day Inca trail hike. Firstly, these are real mountains with steep verticals. Secondly, you must apply for a permit before the trip can be confirmed, which should take a few days. And finally, altitude sickness is a possibility, and at the very least lung capacities and anaerobic abilities will be decreased.
Contiki has several other options for Peru. New this year, the eight-day Ultimate Inca, which takes travellers to Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Longer trips include the 11-day Inca Panorama and the 13-day Inca Panorama which offer Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno, Puerto Maldonado as well.
The Latin American program offers 22 trips in eight countries including Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico and Guatemala, from five to 37 days and includes the major tourism highlights, local experiences, mouth-watering cuisine, quaint accommodation, comfortable transportation and a lot of fun.
“We have taken all the operational excellence we’re known for in Europe, and taken it to Latin America, which may not be as easily accessible,” explains Ford. “We take care of all the details, so travellers can enjoy the experience and have fun. No need to think about which hostel, or how to get from A to B, Contiki takes care of everything for a seamless and worry-free experience.”
Contiki prides itself on people, experiences and fun, which really comes off in the mentality and nature of all the staff and team members. The tours really showcase the wonders of the destination, as well as spurring the development of authentic friendships and lifelong memories.
The company excels at the tour logistics and organizational elements with the FAM going off without a hitch, and the itinerary a great combination of sightseeing, socializing and free time. The accommodation was very comfortable (3 to 3.5 stars), all centrally located and oozing with charm – the accommodation in Cusco was an ancient Incan palace.
“I love Peru and I love Contiki. Everyone should experience Machu Picchu,” says Faye Lambert, senior travel consultant, Transat Travel. “Contiki takes care of everything, our accommodations were in great locations, and our tour guide, Jhonathan Fernandez, was amazing and went to school for five years to get his job with Contiki and it shows, he knows everything about the country.”
Contiki has a total of 270 trips worldwide with 3,724 departures per year. The male/female ratio is 40/60 and the average age is 26-years-old – higher than one might think. Contiki tours are not just for university students, because with an age range of 18-35, the tours are quite well suited to young professionals looking for a time-effective vacation without the headache of planning an itinerary.